Women and The Wall

Aside

Over the past few months, I’ve used this space as an opportunity to discuss a what it might mean to “have it all, spiritually” and my own personal struggles with connecting to communal prayer with my family in tow. Rather conspicuously, I avoided fully discussing the role a place can play in helping to lift mundane thoughts into fulfilling prayers. Mainly because whenever I think about it in the context of the country I live, it makes me feel like this.

Love it or hate it, the Kotel provides a powerful symbol of Jewish spirituality (and peoplehood). The Western Wall of our ancient, destroyed Second Temple remains the traditional physical place we direct our prayers. Jewish scholars like Judah HaLevi composed longing poetry about it. Synagogue architects perform miracles to try to ensure our sanctuaries point towards it. Nonetheless, for many Jewish feminists, the Kotel can represent the suppression of prayer, not its ascension.

But last Thursday, Israeli District Court Judge Moshe Sobel upheld a Jerusalem Magistrate Court ruling; he stated that “there is no reasonable suspicion that the [Women of the Wall representatives] violated a prohibition in the law governing holy sites.” This signals a seed change. It validates and empowers women to pray openly, communally, and in traditional prayer garments at the holiest of Jewish sites.

In response to this ruling, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz – the Western Wall’s head rabbi – expressed an important anxiety. He worried that this would turn the Kotel into a site of “antagonism between brothers.” Indeed, I feel the same disquiet about the Western Wall’s recent history; although, perhaps for different reasons. I fear that preventing half of the Jewish population from fully participating in their religion at their holiest site will create animosity between siblings; it is grievous and unjust that sisters cannot use the same avenues to seek spiritual fulfillment as their brothers. Furthermore, in a world in which girls see young women steadily attaining parity with their male peers in almost every other aspect of their lives, how can they love a religion that doesn’t? And why would their mothers encourage them to?

My daughter and the Kotel

A Statement from our Women’s Rabbinic Network Director on the arrest of Anat Hoffman at the Western Wall

The Women’s Rabbinic Network deplores the recent actions of the Israeli police, Israeli government, and the religious and administrative powers of the Western Wall, in the detainment, arrest, and imprisonment of Anat Hoffman, on Rosh Hodesh Heshvan, this past week, for wearing a tallit and praying the “Shema.”  She was accompanied by hundreds of women participating in the 100th anniversary of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.

Women of the Wall’s efforts over the past 25 years, to create a gathering place for prayer for women of all denominations and beliefs, is a singular one in the Jewish world.  The arrest, imprisonment, and cruel treatment of Anat Hoffman, a founder and organizer of Women of the Wall, and director of the Israel Religious Action Center, is an affront to Jews everywhere. It is a condemnation of the values of religious freedom and tolerance. The Western Wall is not, as some believe, an ultra-Orthodox synagogue. It is a symbol of Jewish peoplehood and sovereignty, a Jewish home that must be open to all people, a religious site that must protect the religious rights of anyone who wants to pray there.

For the past 3 years, since the arrest of Nofrat Frenkel on Rosh Hodesh Kislev 5770, November 18th, 2009, police and governmental response to the presence of Women of the Wall’s prayer service has increased. Police now routinely remove women from the prayer service, bring them to the local police station, detain them, fingerprint them.  These actions are deplorable anywhere, especially in the State of Israel. Women must not be treated as second class citizens.  Any efforts to silence women at the Wall, to discourage our attendance on Rosh Hodesh, will be met with continuous resistance and renewed commitment to participation in prayer services at the Wall, out loud and with great strength.

We will never submit to the efforts of the authorities of the Western Wall to silence the voices of women.  On this occasion of Hadassah’s centenary celebration, in which the efforts of women to build the Jewish state are highlighted, it is a crime to see a woman arrested for a behavior which so many women take for granted everywhere except in the Jewish homeland.  The Reform movement and the Women’s Rabbinic Network support the efforts of Women of the Wall and the Israel Religious Action Center to challenge the status quo at the Western Wall.  The most meaningful response to this offense is to renew our commitment to women’s services at the Western Wall. As it is states in Isaiah 62:1:

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.

We recommit to our efforts to make Israel, Jerusalem, and the Western Wall a place of safety and security.  We will continue to fight to have an Israel that is truly an embodiment of our hope for a Jewish homeland that stands for freedom, justice, and peace, a true democracy that values the participation and religious commitment of all Jews.

Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson, Director, Women’s Rabbinic Network

jackie@womensrabbinicnetwork.org

 

Mar Cheshvan, indeed!

Anat Hoffman

by Rabbi Ruth Adar

I just got word via the Women’s Rabbinic Network that Anat Hoffman was arrested again last night at the Kotel, the Western Wall, when she was there with a group from Women of the Wall and another group from Hadassah. Since I can’t find any more information on Ha’aretz to corroborate the details I’m not going to say more than that.  She’s been arrested, again. I wish I were surprised.

Anat Hoffman is the Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal and advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel. She is also the chair of Nashot HaKotel, the Women of the Wall.  She was elected to the Jerusalem City Council and served on it for fourteen years. She has been tireless in her efforts to seek fairness and justice for all in Israel.

In the recent past, women have been arrested at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh for wearing a too-traditional tallit, for wearing a tallit in a manner too much like a man, and for similar ridiculousness. If this is a place that belongs to the whole Jewish people, why are women not allowed to pray as they are accustomed? Why must women be silent and meek at the Kotel? Why is only one expression of Judaism acceptable at the Kotel?

Some will say that this is an unimportant matter.  Who cares what the haredim do at the Kotel? What about Iran? What about security? What about the Situation with the Palestinians? What about the Arab Spring?

But you see, this is not really an issue about women praying at a wall or women wearing shawls.  This is really a question of the humanity of women. Women’s images are disappearing from public view in Israel, because one group of Jews sees all women’s images, faces, voices, and presence as immodest.  A group of men spat upon a young Orthodox girl, walking home from school, because her (very modest) clothing did not meet their standards of modesty. As with the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, buses have become a battleground: do women have to sit in the back? may they ride at all?

So it is not a trivial matter that a group of women are insisting on their right to pray at the most famous holy site in the Jewish world. This is not about the Wall. It is not about shawls. It is about women’s right to be visible without molestation or repression.

The facts are not all in regarding this latest arrest. I hope that Anat is all right. She is in my prayers tonight. But not just in my prayers: I am joining other members of the Women’s Rabbinic Network in sending a donation to the Women of the Wall in honor of her, and to help cover the legal expenses of this work.

If you would like to join me (please join me!) you can donate funds to either of these organizations.  Just click on the link, and it will take you to the donations page.

Women of the Wall

Israel Religious Action Center

The month of Cheshvan is sometimes called “Mar”Cheshvan, Bitter Cheshvan, because there are no holidays or rejoicing in it. I am sorry to say that Anat’s arrest and the continuing assaults on women’s rights in Israel make this Cheshvan bitter indeed.  Let us hope that the time is coming when women can again stand at the Wall and pray, as we have done for centuries. Let us hope that some future Cheshvan is sweet.